While the government seeks for inclusion of Hindi as an official language in the UN, back in India it seems to be losing ground
Pankaj Srivastava | September 30, 2015
Renowned Hindi writer and critic Manager Pandey strongly reacted when he heard that government of India was trying to secure 129 votes in the United Nations to get Hindi included as one of the official languages in the world body.
The news broke out on the last day of August. Amidst preparation of the 10th Vishwa Hindi Sammelan (World Hindi Conference), held in September, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced that her government was committed to propagate Hindi worldwide and was willing to bear the financial burden if Hindi became one of the official languages in the UN.
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But according to Dr Pandey, a retired Hindi professor of Jawaharlal Nehru university, this was just a new sloganeering in the name of promoting Hindi. Else, the government would have planned to make Hindi the official language of India, in true sense, first. “Even in the Hindi-speaking states, most of the official work is being done in English, and not in Hindi. English, or any other language of the world, does not have a ‘special day’ like Hindi. This itself shows the pathetic condition of this language. Its significance has become similar to that of a festival, which is celebrated in relation to a story of the past or something that has happened in the past, but doesn’t have any relation with the present,” he said. The Hindi Diwas is celebrated on September 14 every year in Hindi-speaking regions of the country.
The 10th Vishwa Hindi Sammelan, organised in Bhopal, was however full of rhetoric regarding Hindi. Inaugurating this conference at Lal Parade Ground in Bhopal on September 10, prime minister Narendra Modi claimed that Hindi will rule the digital world along with English and Chinese (Mandarin). The market for Hindi language is huge and companies can tap into it by creating apps. “If we forget Hindi, it will be a loss to the country,” he said.
But these claims and announcements cannot change the ground reality in the second decade of 21st century India. Most Indians are convinced that in the current age, Hindi has lost the battle badly and one’s future is very much dependent upon his or her proficiency in English. In big cities it has become difficult to fetch even humble jobs like that of a waiter or peon without having the knowledge of English.
This is why the demand for English medium schools is growing at a fast pace, even in rural India. In this highly diverse country, consensus on any issue is rare, but the ‘necessity of English’ is one ‘theory’ that is accepted equally pan India. Ideological differences are irrelevant on the issue of language. The rich or poor, left or right, all speak on the same lines to explain the importance of English language in India.
No doubt, this reality is totally opposite to the picture conceived by leaders of the Indian freedom struggle, especially by father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was in favour of Hindustani, a mix of Hindi and Urdu, written in both Devanagari and Farsi scripts. But after he died, the constituent assembly accepted Hindi as the official language. Article 351 says, “It shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, styles and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, where necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.”
But that never happened. Due to opposition by the southern states, especially from Tamil Nadu, Hindi was given a backseat and later forgotten. The government never showed any seriousness to make Hindi an important language, in which teaching and learning of science and other modern subjects would be possible. Interestingly, Hindi heartland is now of the view that the idea of ‘Angrezi Hatao’ was not constructive and that two-three generations wasted their time and energy on this. The popular slogan was coined by great socialist leader Dr Ram Manohar Lohia in the sixties. People then bought this idea emotionally but did not realise that leaders were in no mood of performing any experiments. They sent their children to the best English medium schools, and sometime even abroad.
The Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh, led by foreign-returned engineer Akhilesh Yadav (son of Mulayam Singh Yadav who has long advocated the cause of Hindi), has been focusing on English under skill development schemes. This, when the government also honours Dr Lohia as Hindi’s torch-bearer, and many government schemes and a huge park in Lucknow are dedicated in the memory of the great socialist.
Dr Namvar Singh, another renowned critic of Hindi, says, “The future of Hindi became uncertain after Gandhi died. Gandhi wrote the famous ‘Hind Swaraj’ in 1909 in Gujarati, wherein he had mentioned the importance of Hindi. After returning to India in 1915, Gandhi travelled throughout the country and found that only Hindi (or Hindustani) was capable of becoming the national language. Hindi was a dream of Gandhi, but his successor Nehru was hesitant to replace English with it. The constitution gave a timeframe of 15 years to make the changes but due to lack of political will, English is still enjoying its status as it was during the British rule. We talk a lot about Gandhi but have no real interest to fulfill his dreams regarding society or language. It means nothing that the PM speaks Hindi in the UN assembly if it is not getting its place in India. Globalisation could not be a logical explanation for the inevitability of English. Countries like Germany, France, China, Russia and Japan have proved it.”
After 69 years of independence, one is amazed to see the popularity of Hindi films, songs and soap operas, but one is unable to enter institutions like IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and ISRO with Hindi. English is a must. If the government doesn’t want to open the doors for Hindi in these premier institutions, then spending crores of rupees to celebrate Hindi is meaningless.
General secretary of Jan Sanskriti Manch and professor of Hindi at Allahabad University, Dr Pranay Krishna, says, “In the arena of the high-end market, modern culture and advanced academics, the subcontinental Hindi remains primarily a language of translation, almost always signifying the superiority of the source language. Even the popular media, digital, electronic and to some extent print, which targets and caters to the aspirational segments of the Indian population, purveys the same kind of Hindi which is a derivative of, and subsidiary to the usages of the only hegemonic language in India, i.e., English. The project of Hindi as a vehicle of nationalism, as envisaged during the freedom struggle, was over by the first decade after independence, partly due to the conflicted legacy of the freedom struggle itself, and partly because of the contradictions of post-colonial nation building.”
In 2010, the Gujarat high court made it clear that in the constitution, Hindi was declared as an official language and not the national language. That means Hindi has nothing to celebrate. It is not pointless to say that if the government has no time-bound action plan to place Hindi in the position as conceived during the freedom struggle, then it should rather start a national mission to teach everyone English. It will break the supremacy of English speaking elite and enrich our democracy.
(The article appears in the October 1-15, 2015 issue)
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